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Teenage murder witness to testify on CCTV

Northern Cape
Kimberley - The Northern Cape High Court on Tuesday granted an application to allow a young State witness to deliver her testimony via closed-circuit television.

This after the teenager, who is the main witness in the murder trial of four people accused of killing a man by setting him alight, broke down during cross-examination on Monday.

The testimony from the 17-year-old, who is the main witness in the murder trial of Zamani Mbatha, Sylvester Ephraim, Christelle van der Westhuizen and Tessa Mbothibi, was discontinued after she broke down in court and indicated that she was afraid of the accused.

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Zamani Piocock Mbatha, with co-accussed Sylvester Ephraim, Christelle van der Westhuizen and 
Tessa Mbothibi appeared in the 
NC High court 
for the murder
 of Xolile Macala. Picture: Soraya Crowie

The four accused are standing trial for the murder Xolile Macala, who died after being set alight in a shack on the night of April 30/early hours of May 1 last year.

The four are facing charges of theft, murder and arson.

The State alleges that the accused, along with a witness, went to a shack in Transit Camp where they found Macala asleep in a bed.

Accused four, Mbothibi, allegedly took the deceased’s clothes and shoes and put them in bag and handed it to accused two, Ephraim.

Ephraim then allegedly poured petrol around the shanty and on Macala as well.

Van der Westhuizen, who was the girlfriend of the deceased, apparently said that Macala deserved to die and that she would ignite the blaze, which Ephraim apparently encouraged her to do.

The pathologist, who conducted the autopsy, found that the cause of death was severe burn injuries.

The legal representatives of the accused all opposed the application for testimony to be delivered via closed-circuit television, arguing that the timing was unusual as the witness had no problem conveying her evidence in chief last year.

The State, represented by Advocate Jacques Rosenberg, on Monday had the witness assessed by a social worker, Matome Ndadza, who supported the State’s application that the witness be granted the opportunity to testify via closed-circuit television.

Ndadza told the court that the witness was extremely emotional during the assessment and said that even the presence of someone to console her during her testimony might ease the process.

“It was not easy to get information from the witness as she was crying. At one point, I had to stop the session to calm her down. The witness’ mother assisted in consoling and calming her during the assessment."

“From my observation, I could see that fear made her break down as she would also shiver before crying."

“When inquiring how she could be assisted, she indicated that she would prefer to testify without having to see the accused,” said Ndadza.

“She also said that, on the night of the incident, one of the accused said that he normally did what was done to the deceased to people who bothered him."

“The witness said the same accused indicated to another accused that she (the witness) should be watched.”

He said that there was a possibility that the witness would cry during the continuation of her testimony, adding that not testifying in an open court could ease her fears.

The defence, however, argued that testifying via closed-circuit television would not guarantee that the witness would not be emotional when presenting her testimony.

“What if the witness breaks down again during her testimony?"

“The court will be back where it is now. The witness had no problem giving her testimony in chief and it was only when she was cross-examined, and she realised that she had implicated herself, that she started crying."

“The State is trying to protect the witness. The witness is trying to escape from answering any questions."

“The witness now indicates that she is afraid of the accused, however, she did not want to go into witness protection when the offer was made to her,” the defence said.

Judge Cecille Williams made the order based on the age of the witness.

“The application by the State is unusual as the witness has already completed her testimony in chief. It was only on Monday that she broke down and said she was afraid of the accused."

“The witness was 17-years-old when she testified last year. She is thus a minor."

“It is not in the interests of justice that the witness be exposed to a fearful situation, which might lead to her being unable to give testimony."

“The court will, however, not allow anyone to sit with the witness during her testimony,” said Williams.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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